The Legacy of UN Declaration on Genocide 60 Years Later

Raphael Lemkin

Much is being said about Genocide these days.

Last week CNN aired a much-publicized report by its chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour and this week a special task force on the prevention of Genocide headed by Madeleine Albright and William Cohen issued a report on mechanisms to be used by government to respond to Genocide or mass atrocities.

All this is being done to somehow mark or commemorate the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the UN Charter on Genocide and Human Rights, which was authored by Rafael Lemkin and his associates.

But 60 years later, one wonders if the United Nations itself is even vigilant on preventing genocide around the world.

Reports coming out of Darfur today do not indicate an end to the carnage and the genocide that is claiming thousands of lives every day. This is directly attributable to the world’s silence on this matter and its slow response to other recent genocides in Rwanda and Kosovo. We are not even going back to Iraq, Cambodia and the Holocaust.

In marking this historic anniversary today and paying homage to its authors, as well as specifically highlighting the incredibly important role Lemkin played in passage of this monumental declaration, we must pause to evaluate its legacy and the current non-action internationally.

Lemkin himself has stated that the impact the Armenian Genocide had on him prompted him to think about and subsequently define the horrible atrocities committed against the Armenia’s as Genocide. The adoption of the declaration came after Hitler unleashed his plan of exterminating the Jews in Europe. But what happened after 1948?

The systematic and planned extermination of the Jews got its own name: Holocaust, while the declaration adopted by the United Nations collected dust as other individuals and regimes deemed it appropriate to hold on to power by killing an entire an race.

What Amanpour adeptly pointed out in her report was that most inaction regarding genocides around the world were politically motivated and the delayed response did little to save lives. Remember the Clinton Administration’s apology for Rwanda. How valiant, but a little too late; already almost a million people were killed and no mechanisms were put into place and not event the UN Declaration was invoked in formulating foreign policy. This allowed Darfur to very quickly become the 21st Century’s first Genocide.

Today angry repudiations and cause-celebre condemnations of the events in Darfur are not prompting or accelerating change in that region and are in fact angering the perpetrators to step-up their killing sprees. Instead, hundreds of thousands have died since 2003, when the Darfur Genocide began, in Iraq which according to US priorities required democracy-building and an end to a regime that allegedly threatened the stability of the entire world.

So, we finally come to the often recited claim that if the Armenian Genocide was recognized at the time it was being executed perhaps other genocides would not have taken place. We also commonly cite a line attributed to Hitler–“Who now remembers the Armenia’s”–when he was launching his plan to “cleanse” Europe of “undesirables.”

The problem, however, is that all official bodies and people who today are educating and advocating action against genocide and for human rights neglect to properly acknowledge the events of 1915 as Genocide. Case in point CNN, Amanpour and the so-called task force on prevention of genocide.

The adoption of the UN Declaration was, indeed, a turning point in human advancement and it is this declaration that contributes to the legal pursuit of recognition by Armenia’s as it sets an undeniable precedent and legal ramifications for genocide. All points of the declaration apply to the Armenian Genocide, including the definition of the world. We continue to pursue our cause in hopes that one day world leaders and governmen’s would set their often self-serving political calculations aside and once and for all place human life as a priority.


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